By Donna Brazille, Syndicated columnist
The Picayune Item
The imagery of Carl Sandburg’s poem “Fog” always surprises me:
The fog comes/on little cat feet./It sits looking/over harbor and city/on silent haunches/and then moves on.
Such a short poem, and yet each time I read it, it resonates differently.
After the election, I began thinking about change — what has really changed in four years, what change may yet come, what “change” really means. And I was reminded of Sandburg’s “Fog.” Immediately after a prolonged contest, it’s often hard to see what, if anything, has changed, for change comes slowly, increment by increment. But what always precedes policy change is a change in attitude.
Prior to the Civil War, for instance, Congress debated laws that enforced slavery. And in the war’s immediate aftermath, the only apparent change was the silence of cannons. The devastation of cities and farms remained. Yet eight months — to the day — after Lee surrendered to Grant, the 13th Amendment, the first amendment passed in 60 years, was adopted. It abolished slavery.
In 1960, we elected the first Catholic president. Anti-Catholic prejudices didn’t disappear overnight as a result, but the change was apparent 10 years later. By the 1970s, a candidate’s religion was no longer a litmus test for one’s nomination. Even more, interfaith cooperation proliferated and accomplished “miracles” in ways that would have been thought impossible only a decade earlier.
Change is coming to our politics “on little cat feet.” Democrats are accepting more that the majority of voters want centrist politicians and government. And although change is coming slowly to the Republican Party, many Republicans have already changed their attitude — an attitude that strongly resisted our changing demography and politics.
For example, throughout the Republican primaries, the candidates fought to be seen as the most hardline against absorbing undocumented immigrants into the population.
Yet in the aftermath of a very contentious election, two of Romney’s campaign supporters formed a super PAC to bring about immigration reform. Carlos Gutierrez, commerce secretary under President George W. Bush, and Charlie Spies, who raised $142 million for Mitt Romney, are spearheading Republicans for Immigration Reform.
Gutierrez told CNN that Romney took a drubbing because “the far right of this party has taken the party to a place that it doesn’t belong.”
He told the Washington Post: “This is not small ball. We’re serious, and we are going to push the debates on immigration reform to a place where I believe the Republican Party should be in the 21st century.”
Voters have short memories (politicians count on that), but this is a marked contrast to 2010, when Senate Republicans voted as a block against President Obama’s Dream Act, including five Republicans who had previously authored, or voted for, similar legislation in the recent past.
Steve Schmidt, a senior strategist on John McCain’s 2008 campaign, warned the Republican Party after McCain’s defeat, “There has to be a message and a vision that is compelling to people in order for them to come back and to give consideration to the Republican Party again.”
It’s safe to say that alienating 47 percent of the American public by essentially calling them lazy and irresponsible, making Latinos believe that you want to deport their grandmother, and incurring the resentment of 90-plus percent of African-Americans by campaigning on racial stereotypes was not the compelling vision Schmidt had in mind.
Romney, smarting from a loss he was certain couldn’t happen, came back with the same-old, same-old — asserting people voted for Obama because he gave them gifts. The words were barely out of Romney’s mouth when Republican governors, horrified, came front and center to dispute them.
For four years the Republican legislative and campaign strategy has been to oppose anything Obama proposes and anything the Democrats back. In the last debt talks, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner repeatedly found ways to back off compromises by blaming Obama. The Republican Party immobilized itself, and thus the nation, in a partisan gel. But Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey broke loose. To his credit, Christie put his state, his responsibility — and simple humanity — above the election. He not only worked with Obama, but also praised the president for his cooperation and leadership in directing aid to people suffering from hurricane Sandy.
Christie was blunt with Republicans unhappy about his nonpartisan compliments to Obama. “I understand that everything’s political,” Christie said. “But ... when we have people dying and suffering in our state it’s not about politics.” And his tweet — “Today I’m touring N.J. with President Obama. Yes, he’s a Democrat, and I’m a Republican. We’re also adults, and this is how adults behave.” — rightfully went viral.
And it seems some Republican leaders may finally be willing to break with McConnell’s hardline “let’s oppose everything Obama/Democratic,” recognizing that sometimes it’s not all about politics. These are small changes, but if they continue, it will produce a sea change in Washington.
(Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News.)